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Monday, May 28, 2007
Updated: May 29, 2:27 PM ET
Look closely, and this Indy 500 was one of the best

By Terry Blount
ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- The 91st running of the Indianapolis 500 had cloudy skies, a three-hour rain delay and a yellow-flag ending 34 laps shy of the scheduled distance.

That doesn't sound like fun, but Sunday's race ranks with the best in the storied history of the Brickyard.

It included dramatic moments and up-front passing, the kind of action open-wheel racing needs to sway some of the fans it lost to NASCAR over the past decade.

What did the fans see? They saw Marco Andretti compete for the victory again after his heartbreaking loss as a rookie, but end the race this time with a 200-mph flip down the backstretch.

They saw two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves drop to 29th after a fueling problem in the pits but come back to finish third.

INSTANT CLASSIC
Watch an Instant Classic replay of the 2007 Indy 500 Thursday at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN Classic.

"I never lost faith in my team, and they never lost faith in me," Castroneves said. "We kept our composure and had a fantastic result."

The fans also saw Davey Hamilton, who nearly lost both his feet in a crash six years ago, finish an impressive ninth in his first race since the accident.

They saw two open-wheel legends -- Al Unser Jr. and Michael Andretti -- probably race at Indy for the last time.

And they saw Danica Patrick run with the leaders at Indy once again. Patrick was second late in the race before finishing eighth, her third top-10 in her three Indy 500 starts.

"I will win the Indy 500 at some point," Patrick said. "I can't not win it after being this close again."

I will win the Indy 500 at some point. I can't not win it after being this close again.

Danica Patrick

The race had 24 lead changes among nine drivers over 166 laps before rain made Dario Franchitti a popular first-time winner.

IndyCar Series president Brian Barnhart deserves credit for not giving up on the day when the first downpour came and bringing out a red flag on Lap 113 of the scheduled 200-lap event.

Most people thought the race was over, but Barnhart realized plenty of daylight hours remained to get the cars back on the track.

"Hats off to the league," said former Indy 500 winner Buddy Lazier, who finished 19th. "They did a great job of getting the track back to racing condition."

Some people in the estimated crowd of 275,000 went home thinking Tony Kanaan was the winner. When the red flag waved, Kanaan was first, Marco Andretti was second and Patrick was third, which would have been a top-three sweep for Andretti Green Racing.

Franchitti had mixed feelings watching the rain fall.

"It looks like my best friend [Kanaan] is going to win," Franchitti said. "My other teammates are second and third, so it would be a pretty good day for us. But the selfish side of me was thinking we could do something if we go back racing."

Kanaan got the lead when he passed Marco on a restart a couple of seconds before a caution came out for a wreck behind them.

Dario Franchitti, right, and Michael Andretti
Team owner and driver Michael Andretti, left, was as happy as anyone celebrating with Dario Franchitti in Victory Lane at the Indy 500.

The rains came moments later, so it looked as though Marco had lost the lead at the worst possible moment for the second consecutive year. He lost the 2006 Indy 500 when Sam Hornish Jr. passed him a few feet before the finish line.

This time, Marco had to sit and wait as the rain fell, wondering whether he would get another chance. He did, but it didn't turn out well.

The fans who left missed 53 laps of wild racing and strategic moves that decided the outcome.

After the race resumed, Marco clipped wheels with Dan Wheldon, then went airborne and crashed to the ground upside down before turning back over. He walked away with only a few bruises.

Franchitti inherited the lead by staying on the track when Kanaan and Hornish pitted during a caution. That led to the demise of Kanaan's hopes when he spun while trying to avoid Jaques Lazier's crash on the restart.

Kanaan's chances of winning were over after his having the dominant car most of the day.

"It was Dario's day," Kanaan said. "But my big disappointment is if we weren't going to finish 200 laps, why did we continue? Of course, I'm sure Dario sees it the other way around."

It all depends on your point of view -- half empty or half full. A few people might look at the 2007 Indy 500 as a rain-shortened disappointment, but look between the raindrops and you saw a race to remember.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.